“Always Do the Tough Things First” with Silicon Valley’s Longest Serving CEO, Ray Zinn
If you want to know how to make it in Silicon Valley, there is no one better to turn to than Ray Zinn, the longest-serving CEO of a publicly-traded company in Silicon Valley. Ray Zinn has built his entire career on doing the tough things first. He not only successfully led his company, Micrel Semiconductors through eight major economic downturns, he also holds over 20 patents. Having never taken VC money, Ray Zinn is offering entrepreneurial guidance, as well as funding with his recently launched university, start-up competition called Zinnstarter. His book, Tough Things First, offers readers guidance on how to find their vision, set their goals, and make them happen as well as “shows you how to develop interconnected skills, how to integrate them into your life and work, and how to handle the tough things first.”
How will Silicon Valley change after the pandemic?
I think more companies will knuckle down financially and continue to leave California, following in the footsteps of Oracle, HP, and more. I believe this pandemic caught many companies off guard, especially financially, and moving out of California will help ease some of the financial stress because of the tax breaks that exist elsewhere. In addition, I foresee a lot of companies allowing more employees to work remotely which will allow for a better quality of life for many workers.
Having successfully led a company through 8 economic downturns; What advice can you give to leaders to rebound during this economic downturn?
Make cash king above all else. Companies need to keep at least a year’s operating cash in the bank for those tough times. In addition, even during flush times, companies need to remain extremely prudent about growth and spending habits. The old adage of hope for the best but prepare for the worst applies here.
What are the strategies which you use to stay at your best during the pandemic?
Always doing the tough things first. This has helped to keep me on an even keel no matter what is going on. I find that this singular habit keeps me at my best and more than anything motivates me during the most challenging of times.
You have talked about loving the things you hate. Can you take us through this philosophy?
Absolutely. When you master tasks and skills that you used to dread and hate even, you not only become proficient at those tasks, but you learn to love what you once hated. In order to grow and lead, you must master a wide variety of skills, especially those you dislike. You can’t put them off which is what we generally do with things we don’t like to do. This is why those who hate exercising should do it first thing in the morning. If you dread budget reports, hit that one task the moment you sit at your desk to work and so on. The better you get at something, the less you dread it and eventually, you may even learn to love what you once hated.
What will be the next technological trend that we can expect from Silicon Valley?
Personal health market. For example, home exercise, and personal health monitoring (weight control, diabetes control, heart rate, oxygen level, etc.). A good example of these companies is Peloton or Tonal which specialize in the home gym market. I suspect that Apple will get into the home Gym market and will compete effectively with these companies. But there are many pieces of equipment needed and the market is somewhat nescient. There is room for more than one company. The traditional gym market is dead, and most of the home gym equipment can now bring a live group experience to the user with interactive sessions. Therefore, companies that can offer reasonably good equipment combined with superior user experience will dominate.
What is the most important lesson that you have learned in your career?
To always do the tough things first. Sometimes, such as when I lost my eyesight during my company’s IPO, that was incredibly difficult but that singular habit helped me to get through the worst of times.